Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

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Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

Craig Berube remembers his first NHL game in March of 1987 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had two fights plus 16 minutes in penalties during a 3-1 Flyers win.
 
“I had my gloves off three times,” Berube recalled. “Oh yeah, I was nervous. But my position back then, that was my job as a player. Your first game you are nervous, for sure.”
 
Tonight at Madison Square Garden, Berube will make his NHL playoff coaching debut against the New York Rangers.
 
He already had 79 regular-season games to get adjusted. He’s not nervous.
 
“There is obviously a lot at stake,” he said. “I’m excited. I am. I am looking forward to it. They (the Flyers) know I am excited. Over the last few days, our team is excited.”
 
Sheer enthusiasm never won a playoff game, let alone a Stanley Cup. Yet it’s easy to see that Berube’s personality has not changed one iota this season.
 
Even when the club was 1-7. Even when it reached .500 in mid-December. Even when it clinched a playoff spot.
 
Look ahead, stay positive, focus on the here and present.
 
Berube feels a coach’s personality should never change with his team, especially going from the regular season to the playoffs.
 
Even if faced with a legitimate crisis, such as Wednesday’s announcement that starting goalie Steve Mason will miss Game 1 with a head injury (see story).
 
“I don’t think our team feels like it is a blow at all,” he said. “I totally disagree. Things happen. Good team’s find a way to get it done. They know.”
 
Berube is a no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip coach, and his players know and respect that. They say they’ve seen no change in him leading up to this point.
 
Well, maybe one small thing.
 
“He’s been paying a little more close attention to detail this week,” Matt Read observed. “He wants everything perfect. No mistakes in practice, or it’s going to carry over into games.”
 
Berube says it’s important for a coach not to change his ways, his style or his demeanor just because there is the added pressure of going from the regular season to the playoffs.
 
“I don’t think I will change,” he said. “I want my team to play under control with disciplined play. I will coach the same way.”
 
Is it important for them to see there is no change here?
 
“Yeah,” he said.
 
The Flyers were already going into this series as an underdog because of Henrik Lundqvist’s absolute dominance over them since 2011.
 
With the loss of Mason, they now become a heavy underdog -- even though the fact remains that what this series should really be about is whether or not the Flyers can solve Lundqvist.
 
Emery is capable of beating the Rangers. He gets up for challenges and he’s proven that. He has outstanding lifetime numbers against the Rangers, including a glittering 1.87 goals-against average.

What Berube has to do here is refocus his team not on losing Mason, but solving the puzzle of Lundqvist while finding the confidence within his group to make it believe it can win at MSG, where they Flyers have lost eight straight.
 
That’s where positive spin and Berube’s down-to-earth approach come together. When he talked to his club this week about the Rangers, he gave them concrete reasons why they didn’t win in New York this season.
 
“The Rangers are a very good skating team,” he told them. “They get on you quick and forecheck hard and they are an aggressive team. Their defense is aggressive. In both games [there], a period here or there, a period and a half, we get off page.
 
“A little frustration sets in, turning pucks over and it costs us. We need to play a 60-minute game up there. Stay focused. You can’t get frustrated. They are a good skating hockey team. We have to get pucks deep, put pucks on Lundqvist and get traffic.”
 
Interesting that Lundqvist said he saw something on film about the Flyers that is very different from other clubs and it affects how a goalie sees their attack or tracks pucks.
 
“You just have to be aware of it, that they like that extra pass,” the big Swede said. “They have a lot of guys, especially [Claude] Giroux obviously, who can set guys up for an open net. They can shoot, but they can look for the extra pass.
 
“They can still shoot it. You just have to be ready for anything. You can't just expect a shot every time. That's what makes them a little different from other teams, a little like Pittsburgh.”
 
The key focal points, both ways, are fairly clear cut.
 
Can the Flyers score on Lundqvist? If not, it won’t matter if God is in goal for the Flyers. Can they neutralize Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and grind him down into a lesser factor in the series?
 
Can Giroux’s line with Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek be the hot line it was earlier this winter? Does having seven 20-goal scorers -- most in the NHL -- give them a tangible edge because every line has a weapon?
 
Will their lethal power play make a critical difference, or will the Rangers' third-ranked penalty kill simply erase it?
 
Simple questions with no simple answers, Berube would tell you.
 
“The biggest thing is you have to take one shift at a time in the playoffs, focus and keep pounding away, no matter what,” Berube said. “Playoffs are a grind. You have to be prepared for a grind.
 
“That is what I told my team. Be prepared for a grind out there. Need to check and skate and work, do all the little things. If you don’t do them, you won’t be successful.”
 
Sounds like a guy who’s actually coached before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, doesn’t it?

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).

 

Flyers collapse in second period vs. Devils, fall in wild card

Flyers collapse in second period vs. Devils, fall in wild card

This was game the Flyers needed to win.

A team they were more than capable of beating.

Two points they absolutely had to have if they’re going to reclaim the wild card they so carelessly tossed aside in the past month.

And it was all lost when they became unglued over a bad penalty, then an even worse call, during a tied game late in the second period.

Poof! Two goals later, it’s 3-1 New Jersey as the Flyers collapsed in a 4-1 loss Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center to the Devils and slipped one point behind Toronto (51) in the wild card (see Instant Replay).

Veteran referee Dan O’Halloran, who calls an honest game, whistled Radko Gudas for clipping on a legal hip check for a Devils power play.

Then, Flyer MVP candidate Wayne Simmonds argued and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct call.

New Jersey scored on the subsequent 5-on-3 power play, then the Devils added a bad goal off a horrendous line change in the final 48 ticks of the stanza to completely change the complexion of the game.

“I’ll take blame for that,” Simmonds said. “I didn’t agree with the [Gudas] penalty, I got an extra two that’s my fault. They score a goal, make it 2-1, that’s a momentum changer, I take all of the blame for that.”

O’Halloran should have warned Simmonds to walk away, but didn’t. That’s what a good, veteran official does. He blew it. Twice.

“What was said both ways?” Simmonds asked. “The referee was talking to me; I was talking to him. I am not commenting on calls; it is what it is. It happened, it’s over with now. I am not going to say anything about that.”

That the Flyers collapsed so easily at that point just goes to show you how vulnerable and how fragile this team is right now. This was fifth loss in six games for Dake Hakstol's squad.

“It’s a turning point in the hockey game, but no one play or one situation dictates a hockey game,” Hakstol insisted.

Indeed, the poor line change was just as bad or worse. Jakub Voracek was going off the ice at the blue line when the puck was unexpectedly tossed at his feet.

“I didn’t [expect it] and tried to redirect it and it kinda fumbled and we changed and they got a breakaway out of it,” Voracek said.

Miles Wood sped past several Flyers up the right side on Michal Neuvirth, who had not had to make a momentum save till then. He couldn’t. It was 3-1.

If Voracek gets the puck deep enough, the entire sequence is voided.

“It’s two-fold,” countered Hakstol. “It’s the turnover and not being able to get the puck deep. And then it’s the line change.”

A lot of bad things are happening to the Flyers right now. Just a little adversity seems to collapse them like a house of cards.

That wasn’t the case in December when they won 10 games in succession.

“When you lose so many games, you lose confidence,” said Neuvirth, who was pulled for “precautionary reasons” said general manager Ron Hextall, as Steve Mason played the final period.

Neuvirth was limping after the game after tweaking his left knee again, sources said.

“For us it was a tough break to come back, the Devils playing really good hockey, but I think we got to keep believing and keep pushing forward. I still believe in this group,” Neuvirth said.

Question is, do they believe in each other?

Even after giving up the game’s first goal, the Flyers came back tied it, 1-1, on a jam-in goal past Keith Kinkaid by Travis Konecny, had some momentum, then lost everything in that brutal second period.

That’s not to say they didn’t have their chances. Six power plays? No goal? Then again, the power play is 0-for-11 over the past two games. Claude Giroux’s first unit was awful in this one.

And then there’s eight penalties the Flyers took, as well.

“Yeah, we had penalty trouble,” Konecny said. “I think it has kind of crept into our game in the past four or five games. It is not like it is one specific guy. Everyone is taking penalties. We are working hard, and some of those penalties are working hard.

“There are some things we can clean up a little bit, but at the same time when we have taken penalties our  guys have been great. You can’t stop everyone. Everyone’s got good power plays and our guys have been phenomenal on the PK. We just have to take a little less.”

“It’s tough," Neuvrith added. "Seems like taking bad penalties at the wrong times and it’s costing us the games.”

Hakstol insists the team’s confidence hasn’t waned even if it seems that’s exactly what has happened.

“No, I’ve answered that question before,” Hakstol said with a certain amount of irritation. “It’s hard, if we want to rest on confidence sagging, that’s the wrong answer. Our answer is pull together, dig in and get back to work.”